Sunday, May 19 | 75°F H: 90°F / L: 72°F
John Henry, aka “J Henry,” may be as much a spiritual adviser as he is a professional barber. Even his business-card reads: “A place to get your head together.”
Patrons are drawn to J Henry’s shop to have their locks shorn and, oftentimes, to get some friendly advice. And he is all ears: “If they want me to listen, I give them my undivided attention,” he says. “If they want advice, I’ll help them get their head together.”
A native of Orlando, Henry has owned and operated the storefront barbershop at West Church Street and Parramore Avenue since 1994. Now employing six barbers, he has seen firsthand the changes in the Parramore district, a section of town just west of Interstate 4 that is recovering from years of neglect and urban blight.
“The city is rebuilding. I really love the change taking place in the community. It’s long overdue,” Henry says.
Those changes include the addition of the Florida A&M University College of Law campus, the University of Central Florida’s Center for Emerging Media, a federal courthouse and the new 266-unit City View apartment complex. Coming soon: Amway Center, new home of the Orlando Magic and twice the size of the existing arena several blocks north. It is set to open in the fall.
“I’ve watched these neighborhoods change for the better,” Henry says. “I’m seeing more families come into the community. They love the changes. The fact that they will bring three or four kids into the barbershop is an indication that they feel safe. And, of course, they’re going to get good service.”
“The Parramore area has changed for the better, and that’s a good thing,” he says.
Henry and his wife Lovetta, a sergeant in the Orlando Police Department, can now pick from a wide variety of entertainment options right in Downtown Orlando.
“In the past, we often went somewhere else to enjoy a night out,” Henry says. “Now, we can stay downtown and spend our money. Just look at the new Plaza Cinema Café movie theater. I walked in there with my wife and our first reaction was, ‘Wow this is nice!’ We love having all the entertainment close by.”
Henry says people are taking greater pride in the Parramore area. “When more jobs are created in the neighborhoods, people want to stay in the community. The dream is becoming a reality. The mayor and other city leaders are not only talking, they are doing.”
But there is still something missing from Downtown Orlando, Henry laments.
“We need an NFL football team.”
Until that time comes, locals will have to be content with the area’s other major attraction.
“We have an awesome barbershop,” Henry boasts.
Tommy Khatib knows Downtown Orlando, and for good reason: As general manager of Café Ritazza on the first floor of SunTrust Center, Khatib gets the daily scuttlebutt on happenings downtown from legions of loyal patrons who drop in for breakfast or lunch.
“We serve 800 people a day, and I know almost everybody,” Khatib says. “I love meeting and speaking with them. I know what they like, what they don’t like, what’s going on downtown. It’s sort of like being a bartender.”
Café Ritazza’s diners are a diverse bunch, ranging from city leaders and NBA stars to busy workers replenishing their energy reserves from the 50-item menu, created mostly by Khatib.
A 20-year veteran of the food-service business, Khatib arrived in Orlando seven years ago after working at national restaurant chains in New Jersey and Maryland. He’s no stranger to big cities, and that’s why he prefers Orlando’s downtown.
“We offer a big-city feel but on a smaller scale,” Khatib says. “It’s a very hip place to work and live, and it’s growing.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that, for Orlando downtowners, convenience ranks near the top of their “why I live and work here” priority list, Khatib says.
“You have a cinema, library, the arts, Farmer’s Market and restaurants, shops, cafes and nightclubs in every direction. The arena [where the Orlando Magic play] and amphitheater at Lake Eola are only few blocks away. Everything is within walking distance. Where else are you going to find that?”
And there’s more to come, with the new Amway Center opening this fall, development of the Dr. P. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center and addition of the SunRail commuter transit system in 2012, connecting the city’s core to communities north and south.
“Downtown has a very cosmopolitan flavor and that will become even more appealing as more first-class venues like the new sports arena open,” Khatib says. “And when SunRail starts running, it will be even easier to get here to see it all.”
Despite the big-city look and feel, Downtown Orlando is not uncomfortably crowded, he says.
“You don’t have to fight a lot of traffic. It’s very easy to find parking,” Khatib says. “In Brooklyn after 5 p.m., I’d circle the block 20 times looking for a parking spot. Here, you’re not going to have that problem.”
However, one of the most congested spots in Downtown Orlando may be Café Ritazza at the lunch hour. The No. 1 seller: the Turkey Cranberry sandwich, another of Khatib’s culinary creations.
“Cooking is my passion,” Khatib says.
For media inquiries or to request press materials, photos or video, please contact:
City of Orlando, Office of the Mayor
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